Why is Israel against Russia's meeting with Hamas leaders?

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BEIRUT/TELL AVIV. (RIA Novosti commentators Marianna Belenkaya, Artur Gabdrakhmanov.)

The Arab world welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to invite Hamas leaders to Moscow. But Israeli politicians say the Russian initiative "aims to give international legitimacy to a terrorist group."

Israel's negative reaction was predictable. But what stands behind it? Is it honest indignation or what?

"This initiative is a real knife in the back," said Israel's Education Minister Meir Sheetrit. "What would Moscow say if we invited Chechen representatives to Jerusalem in response?"

But it would not be right to compare the Chechen and the Palestinian situations, if only because Chechnya is part of Russia, which the international community recognizes, while the Palestinian territory is occupied by Israel, as proceeds from UN Security Council resolutions.

The Israeli minister also forgets that Hamas has come to power in legitimate elections. The Palestinian people voted for it and gave it the right to form the government. The international community has indirectly recognized this right by accepting the results of the elections. Moscow is offended when other states receive people who have lost the right to represent the interests of Chechens or have never had this right. Chechnya has a legitimate parliament and president who are the only ones with the right to speak on behalf of the Chechen people who have elected them.

President Putin invited Hamas leaders to Moscow only after the organization won the parliamentary elections. His initiative cannot undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian government or the stability of Palestine, unlike the actions of those who receive Chechen bandits in their capitals.

Hamas's victory is a fact that cannot be denied without denying also the results of the elections.

Israeli politicians accuse Moscow of acting contrary to the latest statement made by the Quartet of international intermediaries (Russia, the United States, the UN and the European Union). This statement on the results of the Palestinian elections was adopted in London on January 30. Israelis like to mention it, though in the past they preferred to ignore such documents, let alone the UN Security Council resolutions that run counter to Israel's interests. Moreover, Israel accepted the Roadmap for the Middle East settlement with 14 reservations. According to the Israeli interpretation of the latest statement by the Quartet, Moscow has no right to receive Hamas leaders.

In fact, the January 30 statement by the Quartet did not aim to boycott Hamas and did not even mention it. It says "future assistance to any new Palestinian government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap." Note the word "would" where Israel sees "must."

Moreover, there is no yardstick to judge Palestinians' actions because the new Palestinian government has not been formed yet. And there are no grounds for accusing Russia of betraying the Quartet. Russian diplomats said after President Putin had made public his initiative that talks with Hamas would be held within the framework of the Quartet's decisions and would aim, in part, to ensure the safety of Israel.

Therefore, Israeli hysterics over the Russian initiative can be explained only with internal political considerations. It is not clear, though, why those who denounce the Russian initiative say nothing about Hamas's talks with Egypt, or about Turkey's idea of mediating between Hamas and Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has been to Egypt to discuss the regional situation with President Hosni Mubarak and to send Israel's demands to Hamas via Egypt. Why cannot Moscow act as an intermediary then?

One possible reason is that the Quartet, including the U.S. and the EU, will judge the prospects of dialogue with Hamas by the results of the Moscow talks. If Russian diplomats convince their American and European colleagues that dialogue is possible, it will become more difficult for Israel to neglect its obligations to Palestinians.

Israel does not mention that on January 30, the Quartet reminded the sides "of their obligations under the Roadmap to avoid unilateral actions which prejudice final status issues." This warning is directed primarily at Israel, which is pursuing a unilateral policy, which allows it to formalize ownership of disputed territories, under the pretext that it does not have a negotiating partner in Palestine. The international community would silently agree to this only if it admits that dialogue with Hamas is impossible.

And one more question: Why did the Israeli government talk with Fateh, which ruled Palestine before the elections, but denies this right to Hamas? The Fateh's militant branch is more active than Hamas's paramilitary groups, which mostly respect the truce agreement.

This does not mean that the international community should forgive Hamas for the terrorist attacks it had committed in the past. Russia makes no difference between the attacks in Moscow, Tel Aviv, London, New York or any other part of the world. It has never approved of such forms of political struggle, and it will discuss this issue with the Palestinian delegation. But if there is a chance that Hamas would abandon terror, why not use it? We could not imagine 20 years ago that Israelis would negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose core is the Fateh party, but it has done it.

Moscow understands Israel's apprehension of Hamas. But the world should see that isolation would force Hamas to become more radical. If the West denies its assistance to it, it will seek other sponsors who would give money for terror, not creation. So far, the international community has a chance to influence Hamas's future policy. Changes may be slow or may not happen at all, but this does not mean we should stop trying. This is what Russia is doing - trying to lead the Middle East crisis out of the current deadlock.

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